Changing History

Middle School and High School Teacher

Students will research a historical event, “change history” by asking a “What if…” question.  The students will rewrite new information based on their research using the same era and people involved to realistically alter the outcome of the event(s).

Grade Level: 8 - 10th

Subject: Social Studies

Length of Time: About 2 - 4 Class Periods

Objectives & Outcomes

The students will be able to research a past historical event, identify key decisions or aspects of the event, and then realistically alter it by responding to a “What if…” question.  The students will be able to effectively communicate the information using a written report, essay, or oral presentation.

Materials Needed

  • Internet access or other research resources, historical event

Prepare ahead of time:  Example essay w/historical event along with a “What if…” question and possible responses, alternate outcomes, changes in history.  Prepare written instructions for the assignment.


Opening to Lesson

  • Read the prepared example essay in its alternative history form (For example: The essay may start- “On April 14th in 1865, following the trip to Ford’s Theatre President Lincoln headed back to the White House…”
  • Ask students if they notice any unusual facts about the event(s)
  • Discuss their responses and ask for other suggestions of what may have changed in American history

Body of Lesson


  • Ask several “What if…” questions: What if America di not land on the moon?  What if Adolph Hitler had never lived?  What if the Internet was never invented?
  • Ask students to think about other “What if…” questions in history
  • Assign students, or allow them to choose, a historical event to research

Guided Practice

  • Distribute the instructions for the assignment
  • Explain to student they are to research as much information as possible about the event
  • While doing the research, reflect on some of the decisions or choices made by some of the key figures
  • Encourage students to create several “What if…” questions based on the research
  • Direct students to reflect on how history may have changed if the figures made different choices or events were altered (What if 9/11 never happened?)
  • Allow students time to do further research if necessary related to the altered history or changes in the historical event
  • Inform students to write an essay or report with the “new story” about the historical event
  • The story must include as much detail as possible and be written effectively to communicate the “What if…” results
  • Once all students are completed assign schedule some or all students for a class presentation for an opportunity to read the essays
  • Following each presentation, have a short class discussion to debate the realistic possibility of the alternate history

Independent Practice

  • For homework: Ask students to write an essay for “What if…” question related to their personal lives.  (Example:  “What if I had attended another school?”


Use a follow-up class session to discuss the variables involved in the choices, and even daily decisions, made by political leaders and individuals in all periods of history.  The difficulties involved and the judgements made by others, etc.

Sponsored Content

Assessment & Evaluation

Final written report with conclusions and insights and/or class presentation evaluation using expectations/rubrics prepared ahead of time.

Modification & Differentiation

Students may work in pairs; one student researching the actual event, the other student altering the future; eliminate the class presentation, instead have it completed only as a written assignment; use event from one century only, or one event for the entire class leading to a variety of outcomes; assign each student a “What if… question/event in advance

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